Free Dem Dogs was founded to make finances easier so rescue organizations can focus on what really matters: rescuing more dogs
Maddie Tyssen and Tylar-Grace Masnaghi know that not every house should have a dog, but they believe with their whole bodies that every dog should have a house.
Although they know it’s a tall order, the two friends founded Free Dem Dogs to try.
“We’re never going to save them all, but we believe if we work together we’re much more likely to do so,” Masnaghi said.
Founded in December 2020, Free Dem Dogs is a volunteer-run non-profit rescue organization focused on fundraising, education and advocacy.
It all started a few years ago when Tyssen’s dad approached her to ask if she could help him buy a puppy.
Collingwood resident Tyssen has her own rescue pup named Zeke and she’s always advocated that her loved ones “adopt, not shop”, so she began her search, wanting to help him at least find an ethical and reputable breeder. .
But when they got to the farm, Tyssen was horrified.
“It was borderline puppy mill,” Tyssen said. “I was blown away and brought to tears. I couldn’t handle it. How do human beings treat dogs like that?
There was one dog, in particular, named Cloe, who stole Tyssen’s heart. Now nine years old, Cloe has spent most of her life reproducing. After she became too old to generate profits, her owners took her away to spend the rest of her life in the kennel with no love and barely any basic necessities.
“I kept repeating to myself in my head, ‘I have to save this dog,'” Tyssen said.
When she returned home later that day, she immediately called Masnaghi. An old friend and colleague, Masnaghi has worked with various relief organizations in different capacities over the past five years. Within hours, Tyssen and Masnaghi had a number of rescues across Ontario ready to help. With their support, Tyssen returned to the breeder the next morning and convinced the owners to put Cloe back on the spot.
“It was just amazing, the support we got,” Tyssen said. “There were so many rescues who were ready to help. We thought, how can we give back?
After debriefing the situation, the duo realized how good it was to know that they had played a small role in saving Cloe’s life. Financial hardship is so familiar to local relief organizations, so Tyssen and Masnaghi started thinking about ways to help alleviate some of the financial stress.
“Thanks to a rescue, she will live out the rest of her life in a warm and loving home,” Masnaghi said. The problem is that a situation like Cloe’s is not unique.
Unfortunately, puppy mills are all too common in Ontario, so Tyssen and Masnaghi wanted to help educate others about this harsh reality as well.
“The problem is all of these backyard breeders and puppy mills who are just hitting dogs for profit,” Tyssen said. “People don’t realize that there are thousands in Ontario happening in our backyard.
They started coming up with different ideas and decided to sell t-shirts to raise money for relief organizations, as well as to raise awareness of this larger issue.
They launched Free Dem Dogs as a website and Instagram page and released their first “f*ck puppy mills” t-shirt. Within a day they had completely sold out.
“People really wanted to help out,” Tyssen said. “And it was kind of fashionable and cheeky.”
Within a week, they had built a huge following, and it only grew from there.
The idea is that the funds will help pay for the various costs and verification bills a rescue has to meet when they take in a new dog. Free Dem Dogs now offers several different products and has raised nearly $20,000 for rescue organizations since December 2020.
So far they have also been able to help save 18 dogs from dangerous situations.
Tyssen and Masnaghi do everything themselves, from designing the products, promoting the brand, packing purchases and shipping inventory throughout the county, in addition to attending teacher college and to work full time, respectively.
“It’s definitely emotionally draining, especially because you have this compassion fatigue. It’s hard, isn’t it, Tyssen said. “But it’s so worth it in the end.”
Tyssen and Masnaghi have built a network of different partners ranging from local organizations to international organizations, so far covering North America, India, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. They rotate the funds between all the organizations and are always on the lookout for new rescues that they can also support.
One hundred percent of the profits go back to their partner organizations, and occasionally they launch a product with a specific fundraising goal in mind. Their main slogan on many of their products is now “Support your local rescue”.
“That’s really our mission, to help alleviate some of these financial hardships so they can focus on what really matters, which is saving the dogs,” Tyssen said.
Free Dem Dogs also serves as a platform to facilitate adoption as well as an educational space for anyone who has questions about the adoption process or wants to review a breeder.
“My heart melts when you see these last photos. The happy stories,” Tyssen said.
They are also currently looking for local businesses they can partner with to continue raising awareness. Their merchandise is now sold at Maker’s Outpost in Collingwood and Penny’s Motel in Thornbury, and so far they’ve held fundraising pop-ups at venues like Power Yoga Canada Collingwood.
“Having our stuff in stores allows people to continue having those conversations,” Tyssen said. “And it also helps bring foot traffic to local businesses.”
This summer, Free Dem Dogs will have a booth set up at a market in Muskoka every Tuesday, and Tyssen and Masnaghi are also planning several pop-ups in Collingwood and beyond in the coming months.
Ultimately, their goal is really to help as many dogs as possible.
Tyssen and Masnaghi currently have three rescues between them and they know how much joy a dog brings to their lives.
“These dogs, they really are so affectionate,” Masnaghi said. “There are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners.”
“It’s really about educating and doing our part,” Tyssen added. “It’s a passion, isn’t it? I feel so much joy when I can help a dog in need.
As they grow, Tyssen and Masnaghi strive to continue refining not only how they operate, but how they can help local rescues and expand partnerships so they can make as much of a difference. as possible.
“I really believe it’s like my purpose that I’m here to help animals,” Masnaghi said.